Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chocolate is a food group

People are often taken aback when I get really excited about something yummy, usually because they forget that because of my allergies, having something "off the rack" is a cause for celebration. Chocolate, however, is in a class by itself.

While always a favorite, chocolate has since been upgraded to a food group in recent years because it's a treat that I can consistently get my hands on when everyone else is eating cheesecake. I keep lots of it around so that I don't feel deprived, which can be depressing when you're, well, deprived. I've always preferred dark chocolate, and since it's naturally dairy-free I can pretty much stuff myself silly. And when I do, it's not very pretty...for example...

I was just in NYC visiting my friend Elaine and going to the US Open (which was rained out). However, it became a bit of an eating tour, and knowing of my chocolate obsession, E was kind enough to indulge me. She took me to her favorite chocolate shop, Marie Belle, in SoHo, which is conveniently located near her Greenwich Village apartment. It's a darling little French-style chocolate shop, which serves European-style hot chocolate -- dense and creamy (and dairy-free). It's so KF I almost can't stand it. It was lovely and I almost licked the cup clean. The chocolate itself was Columbian, so it was smooth and creamy (like that from Venezuela) but not as complex or dark as I would have liked. My gold standard for hot chocolate is still the Chocolat Africain at Angelina Rumplemeyer in Paris, but I digress.

Here is a pic of our espresso cups and a chocolate cookie, artistically bitten. Note all brown food items on the table. Love it. Piles and piles of chocolate goodness, my apologies for not knowing how to shoot closeups very well. The shop itself was adorable, done in shades of the trendy blue and brown combo also used at Boule bakery here in LA.

Later, I snagged a bar of Belgian chocolate from NYC's answer to Whole Foods, called Gourmet Garage. I already mowed it down before I got a picture of it, so you'll have to take my word for it. Good, but not memorable.

The crowning glory of the chocolate tour was at Jacques Torres' Chocolate Haven on Hudson, where the man roasts his own cocoa beans, for heaven's sake. This was literally our last stop of the trip before being picked up by the car service, and I was tired of lugging my camera so didn't bring it and have only a picture shot with my Treo to show for it. The enrobed chocolate candies were out of this WORLD. It was a pleasant suprise...being a bit of a cynic, I expected pretty but not tasty truffles, like Jin Patisserie in LA. I started off with a spicy and complex piece with ancho and chipotle chili. Wow. Then I popped a piece with the sexy name of Menage a Trois, which smoothly melted on the tongue and tasted of hazelnuts and lavender. Oooh. Elaine had a lemon piece that I swear tasted as fresh as lemonade. Her eyes popped open in surprise because the flavor was so vibrant! We expected her final peanut butter piece to be flat and dull, which instead tasted of fresh roasted peanuts....damn, you could almost taste the shell it was that fresh. I spent some time looking stupidly at the ganache trying to figure out how he did it, as if looking would give me the answer. The man is a genius.

The final entry was a chocolate chip cookie. I had had the best chocolate chip cookie in my life just an hour earlier from a coffee house called Jack's, so in the name of scientific research, we tried this one as well. Verdict: Jacques' had better chocolate, but Jack's cookie was infinitely superior -- chewy, crunchy outside, just the right balance of cookie and chocolate. (Although I should not eat wheat and dairy, I will make exceptions...the subsequent headache and tummyache were totally worth it.)

I brought home a bar of Jacques' 64% made with beans from Peru, the verdict will have to wait since I plan to share it with my Surfas crew.

Peace love and chocolate.

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